a e s t h e t i c s
The Lure of the Industrial b y J . B r a n t l e y H i g h t o w e r , AIA
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Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Control Tower 19, Santa Fe Railway Milepost 51, Dallas; image courtesy Library of Congress, Prints &
Photographs Division, HAER, Reproduction number HAER TEX, 57-DAL, 5-5; Photos at far right by J. Brantley Hightower, AIA
At least two things bind all architects together: our vacation photos tend to include more buildings than people and at some point we read Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture. While it has since been revealed that the title and other portions of the book were initially translated poorly, the book remains arguably the most influential manifesto of the early modernist period. Although Corbusier’s grand pronouncements are at times both endearingly naïve and annoyingly heavy handed, his general thesis was certainly revolutionary for its day and prophetic given all that came later. Corbusier was no doubt being intentionally precocious when he juxtaposed images of French motorcars next to photographs of Greek temples. Nevertheless, he was making a legitimate point about how the refinement that occurs as the result of a repetition of an object type - be it a machine or a building - invariably leads to the perfection of that type. The Greeks, for example, developed the temple form about as far as it could go and architects were still knocking it off 2,300 years later. Unfortunately, the contemporary example Corbusier referenced did not fare as well. The French Delage automobiles he touted as paragons of perfection in 1923 were apparently not quite perfect enough to survive the global economic downturn of the following decade. Nevertheless, the design of Corbusier’s automotive example is clean and efficient with each part expressing its particular function. And while factors beyond aesthetics obviously dictated the design, the ultimate composition is visually pleasing. Though some of the technology embodied in the Delage may seem quaint by today’s standards, the expression of that technology is no less modern and certainly no less engaging. Regardless of when they were built or the degree to which they have been made obsolete by subsequent technological advances, industrial buildings share a similar appeal. In Texas we enjoy a uniquely diverse range of industrial building types. From the tank farms of the Gulf Coast to the grain elevators of the Blackland Prairies, there are plenty of examples of industrial buildings to be found in our architectural landscapes. Perhaps it is the engineering side of our education that attracts us to built forms that reflect the most direct solutions to complex problems. Perhaps it is the fact that these buildings tell stories in such clear terms that they can be understood while driving by at highway speeds. I am reminded of a series of cotton barns on the east side of Lubbock whose roof slope is determined by the angle of repose of the cotton stored inside. There is a purity to these forms that is beguiling – they are defined by the simplest realities of program and structure.
Published on Nov 20, 2009
This edition highlights industrial design throughout Texas, as well as the recipients of TSA's 2009 Studio Awards. Texas Architect, the offi...